Thursday, May 15, 2008

UN official drops pair of bombshells

The UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, is a distinguished professor at NYU law shool. Last year, he went to Brazil to investigate extrajudicial executions by off-duty and former police in three areas of the country. (In one of those areas, Parambuco state, " a reliable estimate is that 70% of all homicides are committed by death squads, and many of those death squads are made up of policemen and former policemen."(link)

Yesterday, Alston finished up an investigative visit to Afghanistan:

AFGHANISTAN: Unlawful killings must cease immediately - UN rapporteur

KABUL, May 15 (IRIN) ...

[Alston] said at least 300 civilians had been killed by insurgents and about 200 others had been killed by international forces in 2008. ...

He demanded that extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings in Afghanistan must stop immediately.

“In a nutshell: police killings must cease; widespread impunity within the legal system for killing must be rejected; the killing of women and girls must end; the international military forces must ensure real accountability for their actions; and the UN should give greater prominence to the role of human rights in its activities,” Alston said.

''A key reason for these failures to act is the extent to which senior government and international officials focus on ‘stability’ and ‘security’ rather than ‘human rights’.''

Amid intensifying conflict-related violence which has increasingly affected civilians, the human rights of Afghan civilians have been overlooked, according to Alston. ... (link)
Earlier week, we saw that while NATO officials claimed recently that NATO troops had killed just four civilians so far in 2008, an NGO in Afghanistan puts the number killed by foreign forces at 60. (Note of course the distinction between NATO and foreign troops, which can also mean US-led Operation Enduring Freedom forces.)

Reuters has more:
While [Alston] said he had found no evidence of intentional killing by foreign troops and particular cases were investigated at considerable length, no international force was able or willing to provide information on numbers of civilians killed, the results of investigations or whether anyone had been punished...

The problem of accountability [of foreign forces], he said, was exacerbated by the operations of forces who were not accountable to any military but appeared to be controlled by foreign intelligence services.

Alston said the Afghan police should be better trained, equipped, and monitored and called for an end to corruption within the force and the impunity that the police generally enjoy after they have been accused of killing civilians...

Some 95 percent of those killed by the Taliban were innocent civilians, Alston said, but while this was a "disaster", rights activists should seek to engage the insurgents.

He said he had wanted to talk to representatives of the Taliban but the Afghan government had said there should be no dialogue with the rebels over human rights issues.

"I consider this to be a mistake," he said. "I reject the claim that such discussions legitimise the Taliban. The Taliban exist, they are engaged in widespread killing and we have an obligation ... to seek to diminish the civilian casualties and killings," he said. (link)
Along the way, Alston also accused foreign special forces of operating with impunity:
UN: Foreign agents behind spate of Afghan killings
By Fisnik Abrashi

KABUL, Afghanistan - A U.N. rights official alleged Thursday that foreign intelligence agents were acting with impunity in Afghanistan and have taken part in secret raids that have killed civilians.

U.N. envoy Philip Alston said he was aware of at least three such recent raids in the country's south and east. He said no one was taking responsibility for the killings.

He did not name a particular country, but mentioned one raid in January that allegedly killed two Afghan brothers that was conducted by Afghans and personnel from a U.S. special forces base in Kandahar...

He said foreign intelligence agencies were operating with apparent "impunity" in certain provinces. He said such secret operations were "absolutely unacceptable."...

"I am trying to encourage both the Americans and the Afghan government and others to take some of this seriously," Alston said.

U.S. military officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Alston said there had also been raids in the eastern province of Nangarhar — another hotbed of the Taliban insurgency and al-Qaida militants, where U.S. special forces and other American-led units operate.

"When the international military forces at whatever level are asked what they know about them (the raids), the answer sometimes is, 'I know nothing,' and sometimes 'It is interesting, I must inquire into it,' but usually 'Yes, it's a problem, I wish we could do something,'" Alston said... (link)

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